by David Ramsey
Sen. Missy Irvin believes that part of how body-art professionals make a living is too weird for the government to allow. Yesterday, to their shame, the majority of her Senate colleagues agreed. The unnecessary, intrusive, mean-spirited and poorly drafted bill passed 26-4.
Here's some background on the bill, which bans scarification and dermal implants. (Scarification is a non-ink skin marking that forms scars for decorative purposes, while dermal implants refers to placing ornamental objects beneath the skin.)
Props to the four Senators, all Republicans, who voted nay. In fact, while we may not associate Republicans with outré body art, it's hard to reconcile this nosy Nanny State bill with the conservative principles Irvin claims to stand on. Indeed, when I asked Rep. Nate Bell, one of the most conservative members of the House, for his take, he tweeted "I would vote against it in its present form."
Irvin claims that she is concerned about staph infections, but her bill would increase the safety risk by sending the body art practices underground. She has made no compelling case for prohibition of scarification and implants, instead offering breathless busy-body accounts of a "tongue-splitting" operation that has nothing to do with the bill. I was at the Senate committee meeting when Irvin brought forward this bill and it was clear as day what was going on. In Irvin's opinion, these practices are gross and weird. So she wants to put a stop to it, which means the government putting a ban on small businesses in this state safely offering something that adult consumers want.
Basically, she thinks it’s disgusting. What I find disgusting is the ease with which legislators would attempt to control the harmless behavior of a small group of people different from themselves. Irvin is basically acting as the high-school bully, picking on the freaks.
I should note here that I have no interest in tattoos or piercings personally. Indeed, this law would likely have no impact on the legislators or the media that covers them. That's precisely the point. It's easier to stomp on principles if it doesn't affect you. Rep. Bell, to his credit, had the right answer: "none of my business."
The bill will head to House committee this week. For an explanation of just why it's such a bad idea, see a statement after the jump from Misty Forsberg, a licensed tattoo and body piercing artist from Fort Smith. Worth noting that Forsberg is a fierce advocate of stronger regulation of her industry to improve safety and training, she's simply opposed to clumsy prohibition. In fact, despite Irvin's attack on her industry, Forsberg today spoke in favor of another Irvin body-art bill focused on regulation and professional standards.
As for the prohibition bill, please read Forsberg's eloquent take-down after the jump...
I have been a licensed body piercer in Arkansas for the last 7 years, and spent that time pursuing continuing education both within the United States and abroad.
This bill contains items which are poorly researched and lack the proper definitions to make them easily enforceable. Problems are clearly seen in the contradictions among definitions in this bill when you look to Section 1's definitions.
Section 1 number 7 defines 'dermal implanting' as the insertion of an object under the skin of a live human being for ornamentation or decoration. This definition is so broad and open to interpretation that it could encompass a wide number of legal body art procedures. Every navel piercing I have performed involves inserting an object under the skin for decoration. Understandably that is a stretch from the intention of this bill, but it puts my industry on a slippery slope and at risk for those governing our industry to use this law as they see fit.
Although I don't support subdermal or transdermal implants being performed in body art studios, the laws written should be more thoroughly considered to best protect the industry it regulates as well as the public.
Moving on to numbers 11 and 12.
Definition 11 defines 'scarification' as injury of the skin involving scratching, etching, or cutting of designs to produce a scar on a human being for ornamentation or decoration;
It is followed directly by number 12 which defines 'tattooing' as any method of placing designs, letters, scrolls, figures, symbols, or any other marks upon or under the skin by introducing pigments or by the production of scars to form indelible marks with the aid of needles or other instruments.
I feel that more time should be taken in writing legislation which governs an entire industry to prevent such obvious contradictions from occurring. Unfortunately, when asked to define these topics for the state, our information on the matter was not taken into account as SB387 was written, and the result is a bill which is apparent in its lack of research.
Pursuing a ban on scarification, I feel, is a reaction being made by the state out of fear of a form of body art which was not understood before this was written. Lack of education when writing a bill like this is not only irresponsible, it is unacceptable.
For those unfamiliar with scarification, it is equivalent in the depth and comparable in risk to that of a tattoo without ink. The result is the intentional application of scars for the purpose of decoration. The state's fear of high infection rates is unfounded, as the initial healing time is faster than even that of many basic body piercings.
Scarification isn't something new. It dates back as far as tattooing, and has been a successful worldwide industry of its own, equivalent to other licensed forms of body art, for over a decade with educational conferences, seminars, and workshops dedicated to teaching and educating artists. To simply turn our heads and pretend it isn't there is a huge mistake and one that will have consequences suffered by the public.
With this bill, professionals abide by the law and cease offering this service, and scarification is left to be performed underground by untrained individuals with no knowledge of asepsis or cross contamination. The public is left with no safe route in which to pursue this art form. It is a reality of what the outcome of this bill will be.
We can look at Oklahoma as proof of this, which chose to stand by its ban on tattooing for so long. Tattooing was still performed during the ban in almost every city in Oklahoma, but with no regulation or law to govern the practice because it was performed illegally. I am asking that this not happen in Arkansas. As a member of the body art industry in our state, I don't want to see us take a step backward in progression and safety. The right choice, and the choice which puts the welfare of the public first is to vote no on this bill. We simply can not allow laws to be passed based solely upon unresearched opinions.
I don't want to insinuate that I am against regulation within my industry. I have spent a great deal of time over the last year fighting to get stricter regulation for the body art industry to ensure the safety of the public. I am not a supporter of reckless unregulated body art. But in the case of scarification, regulation is what is needed to maintain the safety of the public health, not a ban on the practice.
I understand the image our industry has and the ease in judging us as being a group who are untrained or uneducated individuals. I assure that this isn't the case. Please allow us to work with the state to regulate this field and keep it a safe practice by voting against passing SB387 and against the harm it will do in our state.